Shane Lowry believes it’s crucial that an Irishman contends for Irish Open glory at Carton House this weekend and helps create the festival atmosphere that will help guarantee the tournament’s tenuous future.
Without a title sponsor for the past three years, the European Tour is confident that up to 100,000 fans will fill the wide open spaces of the Montgomerie Course this week, justifying €1.5m of public money that has been invested in the tournament via Fáilte Ireland.
With government funding only decided on a year by year basis, there is no 100 percent guarantee that the Irish Open will continue to collect from the goose that lays the golden eggs.
And nobody knows better than Carton House touring professional and 2009 Irish Open champion Lowry that is is vitally important that the fans turn out in force.
Lowry said: “I think it is important that one of us is certainly contending at the weekend. If every Irish player makes the cut and has a chance going out on Saturday and Sunday, the crowds will come out in droves at the weekend.
“That’s crucial this week. We definitely need an Irish player up there contending. I know for a fact that if I had a chance of winning we would definitely get a few more thousand from home. I will give it my best shot.”
While last year’s record breaking staging at Royal Portrush attracted 112,000 fans on the tournament days and 130,000 for the week, the European Tour confirmed yesterday confirmed that pre-tournament sales figures are ahead of the levels achieved in Killarney in 2010 and 2011.
James Finnigan, Commerical Director of the European Tour, said: “Given the excitement around this golf tournament, I’m very much expecting to see a minimum crowd of 80,000 people over the next four days.
“Certainly I’d be disappointed myself if we came to Sunday night and didn’t have at least 100,000 people through the gates at the five days of this event, including the pro-am day, which gives people the chance to see their heroes play with some of the great celebrity amateurs we have playing in it.
“We’re expecting a very good crowd to come to this event. We recognise the support we get from the Irish fans and don’t take it for granted.”
The European Tour has splashed out nearly €50,000 on an amphitheatre style, 1,500-seater grandstand at the par-three 17th, complete with a bar and the biggest jumbotron screen in Europe.
“In all honesty I would expect the Irish public to come and support this event,” Finnigan said. “It’s their once chance to come and see their own and other European Tour stars they haven’t seen.
“We’ve a number of this year’s winners from the European Tour schedule which Irish fans will not have witnessed playing phenomenal golf.
“Thomas Bjorn won here seven years ago. He checked in late last night and I met him this morning. He’s thrilled by the prospect of playing here this week.”
With the European Tour unable to find sponsors for events such as the Spanish or Italian Opens this year, it’s crucial that the Irish Open is not allowed to fall off the schedule.
As Bjorn, winner at Carton House in 2006, said yesterday: “You can’t lose these old national opens. If you start losing them, then you are in big trouble.”